Love the Coopers (2015) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some sexuality
Running Time: 8106 min.

Cast: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Jake Lacy, Amanda Seyfried, Marisa Tomei, Ed Helms, June Squibb, Steve Martin (Voice), Anthony Mackie, Timothee Chalamet, Alex Borstein, Maxwell Simkins, Blake Baumgartner, Molly Gordon, Jon Tenney
Director: Jessie Nelson
Screenplay: Steven Rogers

Review published November 13, 2015

In the comedy-drama Love the Coopers, you may find yourself struggling to even like the comically neurotic Coopers, as they are probably one of the more idealized dysfunctional families you'll see on film.  It's a Christmas movie gathering a bickering family, so you know what you'll get: everyone having a problem that miraculously gets wrapped up all at the same time, so that the entire family can share an amazing holiday moment of bliss and togetherness, and the rest of their lives will be automatically fixed after decades of screwing it all up.

That family is, of course, the Coopers, as we get to see four generations of them, from patriarch Bucky (interesting that a screenwriter with Captain America's name would write 'Bucky' as a character), all the way to the unruly but adorably cute great grandkids, all on their way to visit the large longtime couple Charlotte and Sam in Pittsburgh.  Charlotte and Sam are breaking after 40 years of marriage because, alas, Charlotte doesn't want to go on a trip to Africa that Sam has been chomping at the bit to go on for decades, but couldn't because they were always too busy raising kids.

Other storylines include their sad-sack divorced son Hank trying to find a way to contribute to his kids Christmas despite having lost his photography job (funny that neither he nor anyone else takes pictures of the big night), feisty daughter Eleanor getting holed up in an airport with a hunky soldier about to be deployed to war that she cajoles into pretending to be her boyfriend for the night so as to avoid her mother's consternation, Charlotte's little sister getting busted for shoplifting and dealing with a cop that has issues with self expression, and Bucky gets distraught that his favorite diner waitress Ruby is quitting her job and relocating.

Coopers is directed by Jessie Nelson, whose last effort behind the camera, over fourteen years ago, equally rubbed me the wrong way in the well-meaning but woefully overly manipulative i am sam As with that film, Coopers is jam-packed with music meant to hock soundtracks, and product placement galore (McCafe cups and Sprint phones pop up quite often) to the point where you're wondering if you're watching a movie meant to make you feel closer to your family, or one that makes you want to shop for a few items at the mall that surrounds the theater right afterward.  Link her with the screenwriter for another saccharine "feel good" movie in Steven Rogers, screenwriter for P.S. I Love You, and with whom she collaborated on the script for Stepmom, and you can almost taste the heaping helping of schmaltz that Love the Coopers is going to serve up on your family dining room table for the holidays.  It's a lot like the middling The Family Stone, which also featured Diane Keaton having to share a secret, if it were told in the multi-arc style of the far superior, but equally manipulative Love Actually. 

As there are several stories, you'll expect some hit and miss material, but in Love the Coopers it's actually just one hit and the rest either foul-tips or complete swings and misses.  The hit is the storyline featuring Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy as the political polar opposites who meet in an airport bar and enjoy each others company, even though they have nothing in common, and soon they find a common ground of mutual attraction.  That part works well, primarily because of the quality of the acting involved, as Wilde, whose beauty often masks that she's a fantastic romantic actress underneath, gives such a rich and nuanced take on the character, and her chemistry with Lacy feels natural and effortless, that we wish the entire film could have been rewritten in order to make it just about them and their airport excursion with time running out on potential love, much in the way of Celine and Jesse in the wonderful Before Sunrise.

Alas, there are the other storylines to contend with.  The friendship between Bucky and Ruby is sweet and somewhat touching, but underdeveloped, and starts to get just a tad creepy in their emotional connection.  And the main story of Charlotte and Sam is perhaps least interesting of all, as we know that a marriage will not be thrown away due to their inability to go on a trip, and with not enough time for them to deliver a bombshell at the Christmas table that would probably take a half hour of time just to get this teeming crowd to deliver reactions shots, we can see where things will eventually lead.

The dramatic moments fare better than the comedic, especially as most that Rogers can offer is a joke involving farting at the dinner table, misinterpretations of Christmas carol lyrics, and grossly inept attempts by young, sweaty teenagers to french kiss in public.

I haven't even mentioned that, with all of the stories and characters that are crammed into this crowded and noisy film that it is also narrated by Steve Martin, probably there in order to fill in all of the details among the over-stuffed plotlines that probably ended up on the cutting room floor due to lack of time to get it all in.  Not to spoil it, but we find out later that Martin is actually one of the characters in the movie, though it makes absolutely no sense, given that he's told us about things he has no direct knowledge or understanding of, and it all ends up as a complete gimmick to tug at our already sore and sensitive heartstrings just a little bit more.  However, as oversaturated with characters and stories as the film is, it still manages to shoehorn in extended fantasy sequences (sequences we don't realize as fantasies until after they've happened), presumably to draw out laughter of surprise, but it all gets confusing.  But, perhaps if you think a character mention that she feels (metaphorically) shattered by something, punctuated by a shot of her turning to glass and (literally) shattering, this might be the kind of comedy for you.

There's a scene in which It's a Wonderful Life plays on the television, making you wish the rest of the movie were just of the family sitting down in front of it so that we could watch that for the remainder of the run time instead.  Perhaps more Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy and less everyone else and I'd probably be able to recommend Love the Coopers, but, alas, they're only a quarter of the run time, and the rest is just not interesting enough to follow.  When you have a family this big, I guess there's just only so much love that can go around.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo